Fear That Makes Us Forget

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Fear That Makes Us Forget

Exodus 33:1–6

The Command to Leave Sinai

The Lord said to Moses, “Go, leave this place, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, and go to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, or I would consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

When the people heard these harsh words, they mourned, and no one put on ornaments. For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, and I will decide what to do to you.’ ” Therefore the Israelites stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward.

Philippians 3:13–4:1

Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. 4 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. “

Fear

When is it right for Christians to fear?

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With all the literature and Christian media out in the world that teaches us not to be afraid, and all of the media that strives to incite fear within us, it can be difficult to understand the relationship with fear that God intends us to have.

To begin with, we need to admit that fear is not inherently bad. It is a natural response to preserve life (typically our own). Here, natural does not automatically imply of the flesh or sinful. It means, God created us this way. One could argue that there was no fear until sin entered into the Garden of Eden, but you don’t find any eating (especially of meat), clothes, or even much communication between man and woman until after the fall. Basing the absence of fear on one passage here is a little shaky.

It becomes even more tenuous when faced with the number of times God Himself commands us to fear… usually Himself. But this is not really fear, it is actually a command to love, you might think. I’m not so sure. There are separate commands to love God, and these commands actually use the word translated as love as opposed to a separate word used for fear. Why use two separate words if you mean the same thing? Because fear is not a sin. It is not inherently wrong.

If I had to sum up what holy fear is, it would be the fear that keeps us humbly obedient to God. Let’s say we are on a cruise ship out in the middle of the ocean. Some of us can swim very well. Others cannot swim at all. Even those who are willing to dive into the ocean will keep to the water closest to the ship because they know, without the safety of that ship, they will eventually tire and drown. Or they might get eaten by sharks… who knows! Either way, fear keeps everyone connected to their source of life and safety. It is the same with God. Fear keeps us connected or at least close by Him. It prevents us from wandering off down wrong paths, on our own.

When is it wrong to fear?

Just because God commands us to fear Him, does not mean we should fear everything else too. Many forms of idolatry, in certain cases even the literal worship of idols was motivated by fear. I would suggest that much of the religious sacrifice of humans and infants, both in ancient times and today, was and is motivated by the fear of something other than God. Abortion is a social issue that is riddled with feelings of fear – both for those for and those against it.

There is a difference between fearing actual danger and simply fearing discomfort. Some people would rather die early than face the discomfort of getting a serious medical exam. Some people take their own lives rather than face the discomfort of shame. Have I blamed all the popular social evils on fear yet? Some people would rather join in with racist groups and propaganda rather than face the discomfort of losing friends and family, and possibly being persecuted themselves, for the sake of standing up for what is right. Some would rather fight because trying to reason makes them feel too vulnerable.1

Doing the right thing, following God’s will is often not the most comfortable or convenient choice. There would be no reason for salvation, redemption, and empowerment by the Holy Spirit if following God was easy. Most of the time, it feels more like the path less travelled. How do you tell the difference between holy fear about danger and faithless fear around discomfort?

Forgetting

Some of the answer is going to always be intuitive. Danger and discomfort are subjective concepts… not everything is dangerous for everyone all the time. Choosing whether something is dangerous or merely discomforting is not the difficult part. Being honest with ourselves about why we made that choice is where we sometimes get into trouble.

You see, the experience of fear sometimes makes us forget things accidentally. Put another way, the source of our fear distracts us from remembering certain things. Sometimes, they are things like appointments. A few days ago a pipe burst in my bathroom, flooding the room and pouring down into the basement. In all the excitement (and fear of plumbing bills) I completely forgot choir practice that evening, well after the plumbing problem was solved. The experience of fear caused me to forget. Sometimes this happens in more drastic ways, such as when people awake to a house on fire and get clear out into the street before remembering that they have children inside. Fear makes us forget.

Sometimes, under the oppression of fear, we intentionally forget things, or choose not to remember them. Many Christians, when faced with open hostility to their faith, intentionally forget the warning that Jesus gave us when he said:

“If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” – Mark 8:28 NLT

We just don’t want to think about it, when we fear we might be in danger. We choose to stay back instead of stepping up in obedience. We choose to let fear lead us instead of walking by faith.

Remembering

Memory works both ways. Sometimes we accidentally forget. Other times we accidentally remember. We have moments when we get a chill, or we suddenly feel warm. We get goose pimples and shake, and many other symptoms that sometimes seem like the oncoming of illness… yet we know that is not it. We know that we have been in the presence of God, because He has reminded us of Himself, and sometimes a specific thing He has done.

Those moments, when God spontaneously enters our lives and reminds us, are powerful and important. Yet God does not intend to lead us around on a short leash of divine interventions. Intentional times, set aside to remember God’s love and power in our lives are not only more efficient… they are commanded. Indeed, the Last Supper, the Institution of Holy Communion, was given to us as a command to remember the mighty works of God in our world and in our lives.

Taking time each day to intentionally remember God is a way of choosing to go forward, choosing to let faith lead. We lose our reasons to fear when we let faith lead us, specifically our faith that God will be there for us every place He leads us. It is not faith in ourselves and getting our own way, it is a faith that wherever God commands us to go, He will be our guide and provider.

This is where Faith connects to Love. John tells us, there is no fear in love. We may begin our journey following God out of fear, because we are afraid of life without Him. As we grow however, we begin to follow Him out of love for what He has done and is doing in our lives.

What fears distract you today?

What love do you need to remember to help you choose faith?

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  1. That says something right there!

The Way of Love

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The Way of Love

Deuteronomy 5:22-33

Moses the Mediator of God’s Will1

These words the Lord spoke with a loud voice to your whole assembly at the mountain, out of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, and he added no more. He wrote them on two stone tablets, and gave them to me. When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you approached me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders; and you said, “Look, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the fire. Today we have seen that God may speak to someone and the person may still live. So now why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer, we shall die. For who is there of all flesh that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and remained alive? Go near, you yourself, and hear all that the Lord our God will say. Then tell us everything that the Lord our God tells you, and we will listen and do it.”

The Lord heard your words when you spoke to me, and the Lord said to me: “I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you; they are right in all that they have spoken. If only they had such a mind as this, to fear me and to keep all my commandments always, so that it might go well with them and with their children forever! Go say to them, ‘Return to your tents.’ But you, stand here by me, and I will tell you all the commandments, the statutes and the ordinances, that you shall teach them, so that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.” You must therefore be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn to the right or to the left. You must follow exactly the path that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you are to possess.

1 Peter 3:8-12

Suffering for Doing Right

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. For

“Those who desire life

and desire to see good days,

let them keep their tongues from evil

and their lips from speaking deceit;

let them turn away from evil and do good;

let them seek peace and pursue it.

For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,

and his ears are open to their prayer.

But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Love and suffering go hand in hand. We preach it at weddings. We preach it at funerals. For some reason, all the great romance stories involve suffering and usually dying. I finally got around to watching Star Wars: Rogue One last night and that entire movie was focused around the concept of love and suffering together.. Alan Tudyk, one of my favorite actors played the robot “K-2SO”, and even he had a death scene as he gave his life for the “love” of his companions.

The Mosaic covenant began as God showed love for the Hebrew people by bringing them out of slavery in Egypt and setting them on a path to the Promised Land. Instead of gratitude, they were fearful of that love. While that might seem weird, think about it again. When has true, deep, life-changing love ever come “naturally”. Many guys know the sheer terror of asking out a girl they really care about – fearful of rejection. Many girls get butterflies in their stomach when those guys come near them. Putting on the act and going through the motions is so much easier when you don’t really have feelings for the person with whom you are entering the relationship.

By feelings, I don’t just mean physical attraction either. It is the deeper love that calls forth the willingness to sacrifice – often the kind of love parents feel the first time they meet their newborn baby. Sure, it comes and goes with diaper changes and other messes babies make, but there is a part of it that is truly covenantal, in that it lasts until they are parted by death.

God wanted to show this kind of love to the Hebrew people, and they were terrified of what it might cost them. So they chose to hide from God. Instead of chasing after them, God, did something strange. He used Moses as an intermediary, to go between Him and the people. In a sense, Moses was supposed to carry God’s love to the people. In order to do that, Moses had to act and talk a certain way. He could no longer just be himself, because He was always representing God to the people. Moses had to change. Moses had to learn and begin to love the Hebrew people the way God did.

It was like one of those crazy Shakespearean romances where the guy playing matchmaker falls for the girl he is supposed to win over for his friend. In those type of stories conflict ensues and it either ends as a comedy or tragedy – rarely anything in between. With God however, it is a different kind of story. God actually encourages us to fall in love with the people He loves. He commands it. In fact, He helps us do it.

Jesus came as another kind of mediator between us and God, and He explained that all the laws that Moses taught could be summed up in two simple rules: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. All the rules simply help us know how to do those two things well in different situations. But it is more than just following rules. Rules help you stay on the path, but that does not mean you will go anywhere. Real love means walking the walk, and that is where the suffering comes in. Moses suffered for the Hebrew people. Jesus suffered for us all. God continues to choose to suffer as we give our love away to people and things that do not love us back, while we ignore Him Who is Always Faithful. He does it because that is the way of love.

How have you been called to the Way of Love?

Where does fear hold you back?


  1. (Ex 20:18–21)